The Schoolgirls Of Birnin-Yauri: Living Through The Pains Of Captivity

Almost 17 months after a mass abduction at the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, in Nigeria’s Northwestern Kebbi State, 11 schoolgirls are still in captivity. The girls, including a 12-year-old, are enduring unimaginable ordeals. Their parents wait for any chance to reunite with them.

“Mama, please help us. We are tired of this forest! We want to go home! By Allah, we are in a terrible condition. We used to receive fairly good treatment, but not anymore. They are now excessively aggressive to us!”

This was Fa’iza Ahmad’s desperate plea to her mother, Munira Bala Ngaski. She is one of the 11 abducted schoolgirls of Birnin Yauri, still in captivity nearly 17 months after the children were taken.

Since January, the parents and guardians of the 11 girls have intensified their appeals to the government for their intervention, but to no avail. Their anguish grows as they feel their yearning is not heeded.

They are only too aware that their children are being sexually abused in the forest, perhaps just 100 miles from the school where they were seized. The abductors have sometimes called the parents to torment them cruelly.

After the kidnapping in June 2021, the abductors released some captives. But the last release was in January, and in the following 10 months, there has been no sign of moves to release any more captives.

A map indicating the distance between the school and the forest where the girls are probably camped. Credit: Mansir/HumAngle

HumAngle spoke with the parents and obtained their permission to name the girls in this piece. They want to bring attention to their children’s plight, so that efforts to bring them back might be renewed.

The 11 schoolgirls that remain in captivity include seven from the senior secondary school, Ne’empere Daniel, 17; Rahma Abdullahi, 19; Rebecca James, 17; Safiya Idris, 15; Hafsat Murtala, 15; Esther Sunday, 16; and Faiza Ahmad, 14.

There are four others from the junior secondary school: Farida Sani Kaoje, 16; Elizabeth Ogechi Nwafor, 15; Aliya Abubakar, 15; and Bilhah Musa, the youngest captive, who is 12 years old.

Their parents and guardians barely survive the agony of their children’s prolonged captivity. They believe the terrorists are determined to prevent the girls from returning to their former lives. 

The people holding them said the girls were “married off” months ago.

For the victims’ relatives, this extended period with no advance toward the children’s safe return is also an indicator of the government’s attitude. They say the government has neglected them. They point out that the girls were in a government-run school and so it should have protected them.

The schoolgirls, who are allowed infrequent phone conversations with their relatives, have been pleading for their rescue. They are subjected to daily sexual abuse in the name of “marriage”. They struggle to survive health risks and psychological trauma. 

“They said they would not release us until the government negotiates with them and fulfils their demands. Umma, please help us; go and plead with the government. We are living in pain and discomfort,” Bilhah cried to her mother, Serah Musa, over the phone about a month ago.

Using accounts from parents, people who were released, and a girl still being held in captivity, HumAngle is able to reconstruct the horror of what is happening to the remaining captives in the forest.


One hundred and twelve (112) schoolchildren and eight teachers were abducted by a terror group at the Federal Government College (FGC) in Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State, last year. 

Thursday, June 17, was a busy day of exams. Final-year students were about to sit the test that would determine if they could qualify for university. Others were done with their end-of-term paper and had retired to their hostels to wait for the dinner bell. 

It was broad daylight then, when an armed group under the command of a mass murderer and abductor named Dogo Gide stormed the school. 

They arrived, firing their guns at the police officers, who returned fire, but the terrorists overpowered them and broke into the school premises.

In an instant, the calm of a school winding down for the end of term had vaporised into gunfire. Students and teachers ran and hid for safety.

A maths teacher said he was in the chemistry laboratory when the terrorists reached the school’s football field. “The one that they call Dogo Gide was sitting inside the pavilion looking everywhere, whether they would see people,” he said. 

“They came en masse on bikes, going round the field, saying la ilaha illallah. They used turbans to cover parts of their faces.” 

Many students rushed into the exam hall for safety. “Myself and many other students were running towards the football field,” said one student, “but we were called back and asked to enter the new exam hall, where we all lay down, saying our prayers. They broke into the hall and asked us to move out, while they repeatedly shouted  Allahu Akbar!

According to various sources, it was from the exam hall that most of the victims were taken to the school gate, where some were loaded onto a Hilux vehicle and others taken on motorbikes by their abductors.

An inside view of the Exam Hall. Credit: Umar Yandaki/HumAngle

The chaos led to the death of a police officer. Gunshots also injured many students. 

There were also casualties among the terrorists, and witnesses saw how the raiders treated the dead bodies of their colleagues shot by the police: “They killed two bandits. They used their cutlass to cut [and put] them in a sack.” They took the bodies away, so they could not be identified, the teacher said. 

On the journey to their hideout, some victims escaped. Four were rescued by the Nigerian Army, when soldiers met the procession and confronted the terrorists around Makuku, Kebbi State, in a search and rescue operation.

The terrorists, nonetheless, managed to reach their camp with scores of victims, thought to be about 80.

Following a series of negotiations with the Kebbi State Government, the terrorists began to release victims in small groups. The last of these regained their freedom in Jan. 2022, reducing the number of students in captivity to 11. 

Only the young female captives remain.

Strange phone calls

One of the girls still in captivity, whose name HumAngle is withholding, described the forced “marriage” she was subjected to and her repeated rape in the forest. It was the most painful experience of her life, she said via a phone call.

Not long after Gide abducted the students, the terrorist warlord undertook to “marry off” the girls among them. 

Recounting the heart-breaking story, Alhaji Sani Ka’oje, the father of Farida, said, “The terrorist said if the government failed to give him the amount he requested, he would ‘marry off’ our daughters. He called me in person and said that to me! Dogo Gide! He phoned me himself! I said he shouldn’t do that. He said nobody could stop him because God gave him permission to do that.”

A photo of Alhaji Sani Ka’oje, Farida’s father. Credit: Umar Yandaki/HumAngle

“In the end, we learnt that he had ‘married them off,’” Ka’oje added, anger clearly in his voice.

Atiku Ahmad Wali, one of the released victims, remembered hearing that Gide was planning to “marry off” some of the girls while he was still in captivity. This, he added, heightened the girls’ fears, which made them embark on an unsuccessful plan to flee.

It was probably Gide’s discovery of their plan that aroused his fury and pushed him to actualise what could have been an empty threat, said Atiku.

But Gide has also used Islamic practices to ‘legitimise’ the sexual exploitation of the schoolgirls.

Of the many groups operating in the region, Gide’s band is thought to be the closest to the jihadists in orientation. According to academics studying the region and press reports, Gide has personal links with Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Bilad as-Sudan (Ansaru) and contradictorily, also the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Both groups have competing ideologies.

Unlike other “bandit” leaders in Northwest Nigeria, Gide has sought to justify himself by twisting Islamic traditions to cover up the horror of his crimes and abuse. He has told others that he was “helping” the schoolgirls by “marrying off” the Muslims among them. He is known to insist that he was doing the right thing when he subjected those who remained Christians to slavery. 

There are conflicting accounts of how many Christians have been forcibly “converted”, but it is clear that if they did so, it was in the hope of protecting themselves. By all accounts, they are still treated terribly.

The girl who spoke to HumAngle recalled the day Gide assembled them and asked their “consent” to be married. “Most of us responded, saying we wouldn’t want that. But if that is what God destined for us, then we have no option.”

Without listening to their objections, Gide went ahead with his plan. Some of the people who were released said Gide held a mockery of a marriage ceremony where “dowries” were paid to the captive teachers. 

The kingpin reserved Farida Ka’oje for himself, while he distributed the other girls among his fighters. 

Explaining how terrorists sexually abused them, the girl narrated how she is painfully raped by her imposed “terrorist husband” every night. “He used to insult my parents in the night because I don’t allow him to use me,” she said. 

Between July and October 2022 four of the girls have given birth, according to the girl in captivity. As of November 2022, two of the girls are pregnant. When speaking to HumAngle, she had to speak without mentioning their names, as she was surrounded by the terrorists’ wives while the interview went on.

A terrorist who identified himself as Shehu confirmed to Fa’iza’s mother that her daughter was among those who were pregnant. According to the mother, Munira, he phoned her saying, “Fa’iza is insisting that she wants to go home. But she is pregnant.” She laughed off the remark, saying, “I have nothing to tell you. If you feel you can release her to us, we still love her in that condition.”

A photo of Munira Bala Ngaski, the mother of Fa’iza. Credit: Umar Yandaki/HumAngle

Shehu, however, insisted that he would only release Fa’iza if her parents promised to “kill whatever she gave birth to”. But the parents refused this sick offer. “We cannot kill an infant. By now, you must have known where we live since Fa’iza is in your hands. If you release her, whenever she gives birth, we will call you and hand over the baby to you,” she responded. He cut off the call while he was laughing in what she said was a wicked manner.

Even Bilhah, the youngest of the captives who — according to the girl — is yet to start monthly periods, is not spared from the terrorists’ abuse.

In October, one of Gide’s fighters phoned her mother, Serah, informing her that he was Bilhah’s “husband”. 

“I said, why won’t you fear G0d and help us release these girls? He replied, ‘We are already helping you, because I have now taught her Islam. Whereas you enrolled her into a western school, so she could graduate and get a job, I taught her Islam, bringing her closer to her creator.’”

A photo of Serah Musa, the mother of Bilhah. Credit: Umar Yandaki/HumAngle

Thick forest

Like other criminal gangs operating in Northwest Nigeria, the cluster of Gide’s fighters live in a thick and remote forest. 

According to the Nigerian news outlet Daily Trust, the group is somewhere between Kamfanin Doka and Gwaska, which could possibly be in the Kamuku National Park, a thickly forested part near the borders of Niger, Kaduna, and Zamfara states.

In communications with HumAngle, one of the children referred to the River Gulbadaja and a village, Doka, being nearby. 

This region is at least 160 km from Birnin Yauri. It is believed that the girls have been split up and are being held between four sub-camps.

The terrorists’ camps are located in “a really thick and dark forest,” said Sheikh Ahmad, one of the released victims of the Birnin Yauri mass school abduction. 

“Wherever you turn your head, you will see nothing but huge trees. We were even told that there were wild animals in the forest before. But they have now moved farther into the forest due to frequent gunshots by the terrorists.”

The 11 girls stand at risk of being harmed by snakes and scorpions, which according to Ahmad, inhabit the environment alongside the terrorists. 

“I cannot count the number of times I have seen snakes in the camp. Sometimes, as you move around, you would simply see them running into surrounding bushes. And although none of us was bitten by a snake, at least, during my stay in the camp, a snake killed one of the terrorists, named Bello, while I was there.”

Another released victim said the girls could also get trapped in a melee if the camp were assaulted by either the army or another terrorist group. “This was how we lived in the forest. If today, we are told that the camp will be invaded by the army, the following day would be welcomed with a story that a rival terrorist group will attack and further abduct us from the camp,” said Atiku.


Back in Birnin Yauri, questions are being asked about the protection the school was given. Some think it could have been stronger, particularly as there had been a warning the terrorists were coming, days before.

The school’s mathematics teacher, Mr Eron, told HumAngle that the security officers had been stationed at the school’s gate a week before the attack. This was following an increase in terrorist activity in nearby communities. 

There had been an attack in Kimo, about six miles from the school.

Five days before the attack, a letter was discovered on the wall of the girls’ dormitory.  According to Eron, the letter was a notice the terrorists were coming. Placed on a wall in the school’s female hostel, the letter was written in very poor, almost illegible handwriting. 

A front view of the female hostel. Credit: Umar Yandaki/HumAngle

The school head girl, Hope, was the first to decipher it, reading out the terrorists’ indication of their plan to attack the school on June 17 and abduct 12 female students, whose names were listed in the letter.

The letter was reported, but the leadership of the school said it was most likely a prank by girls who wanted to go home.

By midday, when the attack occurred, only eight of the assigned 12 police officers were on the school premises. Four officers were away from the school gate, one was taking a bath and three others were servicing their guns.

Only four of the officers assigned confronted the terrorists, witnesses said.

Shortly after the terrorists took their victims from the school premises, the Governor of Kebbi State, Senator Atiku Bagudu, arrived. The school was in an uproar as parents and guardians worriedly wandered, trying to confirm whether their wards were among the abductees.

The Governor later addressed the relatives of the abducted children, vowing to lead the operation to rescue them.

In the months that followed, most of the students were released. In Oct. 2021, 30 students were freed. In Jan. 2022, another 30 and a teacher were also released.

The parents of the remaining girls are worried by the long period that has elapsed since the last time any captives were let go. 

“We wanted to hold a press conference, but our efforts were sabotaged by the security agents,” said Alhaji Halliru Umar, the holder of the traditional title, Iyan Yauri. “We resorted to writing letters to the government. It reached an extent that the State Governor became fed up with us. The parents formed a committee. At one point, their phone calls were not answered by the State Government officials.” 

In a similar lamentation, the head of the parents’ committee, Salim Ka’oje, said, “The governor has, of course, tried because he negotiated the release of some students. For us, he hasn’t done anything! Because our children are still in captivity.” 

“From security agents to government officials, no one has ever called us as parents to even console us.”

The parents told HumAngle of the heartbreaking realisation that in their communications, their children are trying to be strong for their parents’ sake. They can tell in their voices, the parents say. The children only tell the parents about their ordeals after serious persuasion. They are trying not to add to their parents’ pains. 

According to Fa’iza’s mother, Munira, some of the girls are still denying that they have been “married off.” “I did all I could to make her (Fa’iza) speak up. But she would say it is not true. And wherever we talk to Hafsat or Farida, they would also say it is not true. They would not tell us the truth because whenever they are on the phone, they are under surveillance. As you speak to them, you would hear the terrorists speaking Fulfulde in the background.”

Daniel Alkali, Ne’empere’s father, also had a similar experience. 

A photo of Mr Daniel Alkali and Keziah Daniel, Ne’empere’s parents. Credit: Umar Yandaki/HumAngle

“She (Ne’empere) would say, ‘What is in our mind, we cannot say it until we see you face to face.’ Because, first, they are under the terrorists’ watch. Anything they say could subject their lives to danger. That is why they cannot disclose the details of their situation to us. But when someone talks to you, you can use your brain and experience to understand their situation. Honestly, those children are in serious worry and discomfort. Yet, they are resilient. They would tell us, ‘Be patient; one day, we will be back.’”

But one of the girls knows that their release will not be the end of their ordeal. She told HumAngle, “We have two problems now. The first one is this marriage. The second one, when we are out of here, how can we take a look at our parents and tell them this?”

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Umar Aminu Yandaki

Umar Yandaki is a creative writer interested in promoting humanitarian values through documentation of historical issues and contemporary human insecurity. He is a first-class graduate of History from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), Nigeria. Yandaki is a doctoral researcher at the Department of History, Northwestern University, USA, where he is exploring historical memory and the politics of erasures in Northern Nigerian Historiography.

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